Food for thought

In a special reserve in Sabah, Charlotte Uhlenbroek is able to get very close to orangutans. She is observing an adult male of about 27 called King. After years of study he is very relaxed around people. He is huge and has an appetite to match his size. Luckily, his all-time favourite fruit - the durian - is in season and King will sometimes come down to the forest floor to get fallen durian. But there is danger on the ground from humans and tigers so orangutans always return to the trees to eat. Durian is loaded with calories which is why it is also prized by local people. Twenty per cent of everything King eats is used to keep his brain ticking over. A big brain may guzzle fuel but it is a very useful accessory. Just as we humans use our brains to figure out the best ways to make a living, so orangutans have to figure out how best to exist in the forest. There are many problems to be solved and a lot depends on learning during the early years of life. This is why all apes have a long childhood.

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